With the thinkgospel bus ad in place in the city of Victoria the following question came to me via email. I give it here verbatim:
One Sunday morning, inappropriately half way through the service, a visitor walks in. She is twenty-some, hair dyed red and purple, silver pieces through nose and cheek, bare midriff and tight designer jeans. Into our hushed and respectable-appearing atmosphere she comes. What do we do?
This question introduces a scenario that presents two issues we need to address. There is the human response—how would we react in such a situation? The other issue is what we might call the divine response—how has God designed His church for such a scenario? The question implies that the meeting place of Christians is open to non-believers. We often consider the church as operating in “closed session”; there is a certain security in our own little holy huddle and we feel safe in the comfort of our own sterile community. The early church, however, recognised that there might be some who come in out of curiosity, sympathy, or perhaps even out of malice (1 Corinthians 14:23; 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 4). In James 2:1–6, James tells his readers to consider how they administer the faith when this situation occurs. If someone like the girl described above walked into the church with a sincere, inquisitive heart, she should see the true nature of biblical Christianity both in our response to her and also in the operation of biblical worship.
First, how should the church react to such a visitor?
The ethos of ancient Phariseeism threatens many conservative churches. Opposition to the seeker-sensitive movement often translates to seeker-insensitivity. We are always at risk of partaking of the spirit of the false religionist, who is heavy on appearance and light on real experience. What follows is a lack of feeling for others when they transgress our comfort zone.
1. Remember the grace that saved us. We may not have been as outwardly anarchist, but we are just as inwardly depraved. We need to remember what Paul said of himself: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
2. Recognise the humanity of the person. If such an individual walked into the morning service some might want to leave the building as soon as the last amen was said. They would be eager to spirit their children away in case they might be endangered by the mere sight of this “unsavoury character”; the proximity of such “riffraff” might influence them for evil. This Pharisaic dehumanising is unchristian.
3. Welcome without partiality (James 2:2–3; Galatians 2:6): The word partiality (“respect of persons”) means to separate, to make a difference between, but when it is used reflexively it refers to one who hesitates. James says if one comes in with gold on do not “look with favour” on him and ignore or hesitate toward the other in filthy clothes on account of his appearance.
4. Receive with love. Stories of insulted visitors at church are many and varied; they include audible and derogatory comments made in their hearing, looks of disgust and disapproval, and even outright refused entrance. This should never be. Behind the hard, rebellious exteriors of the punk rockers are beating hearts. They have feelings and emotions, hurts and disappointments, hopes and aspirations, fears and excitements like everyone else that can only be answered in Christ.
5. Accept in good faith. If we have been inviting people and praying that the Lord would bring people into our church and save them, if we have spent money on an ad campaign in the city inviting men and women to the church, it ought not to shock us when they come in. We should expect it as an answer to prayer and praise the Lord. It is these people, the poor and the sinners who are the “heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5; Mark 2:16–17).
6. Remember to pray. Such a visit might not bring immediate fruit. We tend to forget that the Holy Spirit works on when the voice of the preacher is silent. We need therefore to pray that the Lord would continue to speak to their hearts, bring them back, and change their hearts.
To be continued